Chapter 1.1 (Kayden)

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Another warrior fell against the icy stone, two daggers lodged deep into his back. The queen stood over the body and scanned the crowd with her piercing gaze, searching for the next warrior who dared to challenge her in the tournament.

Kayden Branimir kept her head down, pulling her scarf over her mouth and nose. She couldn't risk the queen recognizing her. Not yet.

"Oh goddesses," Eka said. The girl looked on in horror as bystanders dragged the warrior's body from the ring. "You're going to get yourself killed!"

Kayden smirked, but it was hidden by her scarf. "Speak for yourself. Unlike you, I have a few tricks up my sleeve."

"She's the queen. You know, the greatest warrior to have ever lived? Ring any bells?"

"I'm not sure it does."

Eka shot her a glare. "Queen Lior will gut you in seconds if you enter that ring."

Kayden glanced at Eka. She wasn't wrong. Queen Lior would likely love to gut Kayden the moment she recognized her. Still, she'd take her chances. She needed this tournament. Every elite warrior in Freca had trekked to the top of Risan's Peak to compete. The one who came closest to defeating their queen would receive five-hundred silver coins and a mission to kill their rival domain's war generals.

"Have you ever held a sword before?" Eka asked.

"Do wooden ones count?"

Eka looked like she wanted to gut her now.

"When you die, I'm leaving you for the wolves."

Kayden grinned. "I hope you find joy in that."

"Look, if you're doing this for the silver, we can figure something out. Anything other than this." Eka gestured toward the ring, where another warrior surrendered to the queen. The warrior's torn tunic revealed the silver tattoos covering her body--the same tattoos every Frecan citizen wore. The woman's face glistened with sweat despite the frigid cold, her breath coming out in quick bursts.

In the center of the ring, the queen stood strong and proud. Her clothing remained unscathed, except for the blood that wasn't hers. Kayden's eyes narrowed as she watched her mother wipe her blade clean. It was always someone else's blood that stained the frost-covered ground, but tonight the queen's daughter planned to return the favor. Mother had trained Kayden herself, for years and without mercy.

Kayden hoped Mother would regret it.

"You wouldn't understand." Kayden averted her gaze from the queen and dug the tip of her boot into the newly fallen snow. She pushed it around, unable to look at Eka. "It's not silver I need."

"Then help me understand, Nila." Eka used Kayden's alias--the only name the girl had ever known her by. "I'd rather poison myself in the sea than lose my best friend tonight."

There was no way Kayden could explain to Eka about the letter that had appeared on her lap a couple of weeks ago. Letters didn't just manifest from thin air. Only Alena--Kayden's twin sister--possessed the magic to pull off such tricks. That was what Kayden had thought it was: a trick.

She would've been seventeen now, but Alena had died two years ago.

Alena had disappeared on an intelligence mission in their rival domain, and after a year of silence she was declared gone. Because when you worked for Queen Lior, you didn't just vanish.

Unless she wanted you to.

But the letter had indicated otherwise, written in a secret code only Alena and Kayden knew.

Help me. Please. I've done terrible things in Leodia. I don't have much time left.

Now that she knew Alena was alive, she'd stop at nothing to save her sister. There was no other option but to win this tournament. It was the only way to convince Mother to let her leave Freca.

"Talk to me, Nila. What's going on?"

Eka was all sharp angles with even sharper green eyes. In those eyes, Kayden saw the concern and another emotion that lingered like a fleck of gold beneath a stream. Kayden caught glimpses of it, and all she had to do was reach out...but she couldn't. Not now. Maybe not ever. White-blonde hair blew across Eka's face. Before Eka could fix it, Kayden tucked the stray strands behind the girl's ear. Her fingertips lingered, torn between pulling Eka closer and letting her go.

Kayden swallowed hard. "You won't need the wolves."

Before Eka could protest, Kayden slipped through the crowd. 


If you enjoyed the first part of chapter one, please don't be afraid to leave a comment! I'd love to hear your feedback.

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